Tuesday, September 22, 2009

FMN: DW frost

So, is this how my DK will be raiding for the foreseeable future?

Ok, pause first for a few prefaceorial (yes I made that up) comments. For all of the major dps specs, I have at least adequate gear to try them out (almost all at least T8 gear). I have 232 weapons for each spec. I raid with a guild that's organized around allowing time for rl, so we 'only' spend about 8 hours of raiding a week - nowhere near as much as hardcore guilds and thus don't attempt world firsts or anything close to it. Still, we're at 12/14 ulduar (focusing on TOC now) and fully cleared regular TOC 10 and 25 the week it was available. Heroic TOC is a work in progress.
I consider myself a very good player, but by no means the world's best. Also, in writing these articles, I'm trying out the popular specs in action, not in theorycrafting. As these are based on limited samples (a week or so of practice, then one night's raid), they are susceptible to random factors. In any case your mileage may vary. If you want hardcore maths and simulators, Elitist Jerks' wonderful site is for you.

Over the past several weeks, I've spent at least a week with every major dps spec, so I can confidently say I can play each of them reasonably well to make each of my trials here a 'fair go.' I usually test the rotations on dummies to gain a comfort level with them, then I go grind pustulent horrors (the elites in Icecrown) to see how the spec performs on a single target without raid buffs. After that I try it in raids.

Right, my first attempt to figure out what might be 'right for me' in 3.2.2 was the DW frost build. For those unfamiliar with Frost dps in 3.2, it's become the 'DW tree,' that is, it has two talents that increase dual wielding dps, making anyone going deep into the tree likely to be a dual-wielder. You can go for a 'personal dps best' and ignore the Icy Talons talents, but all of the specs I'm trying have a major raid buff, so I tested 0/53/18. DW frost utilizes strikes that hit with both hands (Threat of Thessarian) to do its primary damage. In addition, it uses a proc-based attack to put the 'icing on the cake' for dps. Howling Blast is not an attack you want to use normally as it requires a frost rune which would throw off your obliterate rotation, but talented with Rime you can use it for free. DW frost players watch for Rime to proc, then typically wait for Killing Machine to proc (or vice versa), and then use HB. In typical Ulduar/TOC gear this happens about once every 30 seconds or so.
The rotation would be something like:

Of course, the phrase du jour is 'priority,' meaning that you want to follow the above rotation when possible, but when things get mucked up in the current movement-heavy raiding, you have to ensure aspects of your dps over others. SO, your priority for DW frost is:

Diseases (BP, FF) > HB (Rime/KM) > OB > FS > IT > BS > PS
It's a basic FU FU (frost/unholy rune) Death Knight rotation with the howling blast twist, and, of course, has the different feel of equipping two one-handers instead of a big two-hander. In addition, the rune dump is Frost Strike instead of Death Coil, which was recently nerfed fairly hard, but still provides a solid chunk of dps. Unlike DC, it must be used in melee range.

So, how did it do?
I ran the spec for a full raid night in Ulduar (our raids are only 2 hours), where we cleared through Iron Council. It being an 'optional' night, we 22-manned the raid. Of the major trees, I've spent the least time in frost, so my comfort level might admittedly be affected there, but personally I didnt really enjoy the howling blast mechanic. It annoyed me to constantly be watching for procs, even with Mik's or Power Auras to help out. On the other hand, hitting those strikes with both hands is tremendous fun - reminiscent of big mutilate hits on my rogue in Burning Crusade. Very little burst from this spec, with only ghoul and UA (if you take it) providing on-demand burst. I did reasonably well in relation to my guildies, but dps wasn't outstanding by any means. I only did 6.5k on a messy XT deconstructor, and only ended up second on the meters overall because several other dps died on various fights. I was double-wielding 10-man Lion's Maws, with a little over 6000ap buffed before the pull. I found the raw dps numbers to be somewhat lower than I'd hoped. I did well on several fights but wasn't outstanding on any (as you can see in the screenshot). Given the criteria I put in my first part of the series, I feel there's something missing.

Pros: Solid single target, sustained damage. Solid aoe (when using diseases and howling blast). Many prefer the dual wield playstyle, 'feel,' which also tends to scale better with gear. HB procs break up the rotation monotony.
Cons: No cleave damage. Single target dps lags behind blood on Patchwerk-type tank'n'spank fights according to most pundits (and in my experience as well). Howling Blast mechanic doesn't add significantly to overall dps. Target switching or movement fights can hurt dps.

So, here's the report card:
1. DPS: solid, but not great. Better, but not the best, for aoe/add fights. Poor on movement/switching fights. A-
2. Raid utility: Icy Talons buff is good but not unique since we have an enh shaman. B+
3. Fun: enjoyed the DW strike mechanic, didn't enjoy watching for howling blast. Spec is frustrating on movement fights. B+

Overall, I'll give this spec an A-/B+. To see if DW frost is 'home' for 3.2.2, see my next article on DC spam!

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